Think you're annoyed when your dinner is interrupted by a call from somebody in Indonesia trying to convince you to take out a second home mortgage? Consider how ticked you'd be if that caller had taken your job, too.
Well, state Rep. Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) is sponsoring a measure, HB 2836, designed to protect those Oregon jobs by cracking down on calls if they're coming from, say, Indonesia.
"Call centers are an important part of Oregon's economy—there are over 20,000 Oregonians employed by call centers," says Rosenbaum, a 28-year member of the Communications Workers of America union.
Rosenbaum's bill would require that within 30 seconds of the beginning of a conversation in Oregon, a call center employee who initiates, receives or is transferred a call would need to provide his or her real name as well as their location. The measure would also demand that call center employees disclose the name and phone number of the company that has contracted them, as well as re-route the call to a U.S. center if the call recipient requests it.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, March 21, in the House Committee on Consumer Protection.
According to Madelyn Elder, president of CWA Local 7901, Qwest in 2001 closed 10 call centers in Portland and outsourced the work. Elder says that cost Oregon 1,100 jobs.
"They say there's no qualified workers here," Elder says. "They think 'not qualified' means you want to make more than minimum wage."
But even Elder says the bill would be hard to enforce unless callers complain. And state numbers show call-center jobs are a small part of the state economy and have actually increased recently.
According to state employment economist Art Ayre, Oregon's 139 call centers make up only 0.5 percent of total employment in the state. And as of August 2006, call center employment was actually up 9 percent from 2005.
"When you look at the chart,'' Ayre says, "you see employment growing pretty rapidly over the past few years."
Call center jobs aren't exactly lucrative, either. According to Qwest spokesman Bob Gravely, the average beginning wage of a Qwest call center employee, with commission, is $8-$12 per hour.
Opponents of Rosenbaum's bill say it's a solution in search of a problem. Jim Craven, Salem lobbyist for the American Electronics Association, says the result would be a cumbersome process for Oregonians trying to transact business overseas, including making it more difficult to book international hotel reservations.
"I don't think this does anything for jobs in Oregon," Craven says. "It doesn't say anything about your call center needing to be in Oregon."
Rosenbaum says her bill is important because, in addition to bringing jobs back to the state, it would inform consumers and protect against identity theft. HB 2836 also makes it illegal for a call center to send any financial, medical, credit or other identifying information pertaining to the person receiving or making the call to another country unless that person gives permission.
"More and more, you can tell when you're talking to somebody who's not here," says Rosenbaum. "Ultimately I think we'd like to give people an option that if they want to talk to somebody in this country, they have a right to do it."